21-year-old Aiden Lopez was detained by police after initiating a physical altercation with a female student and a visitor to NYU at Bobst Library on Tuesday afternoon, during a pro-Israeli sit-in. A student witness said the female student had been participating in the sit-in, while the visitor was taking photos.
The visitor began filming the altercation during a verbal exchange between the two students outside the library. In the visitor’s video, which was obtained by WSN, the male student appears to punch the visitor after the female student speaks to him. Sophomore Allison Lax, who witnessed the incident, said the male student had jammed the female student’s hand into the library’s exit turnstile prior to the events shown in the video.
Campus Safety intervened to separate the visitor and the male student, and called the New York City Police Department, according to university spokesperson John Beckman. Beckman also said the individuals declined medical attention.
During the sit-in, a group of pro-Israeli students sat on the first floor of Bobst, draping the Israeli flag and displaying photos of hostages taken from Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas last month. Lax, who took part in the sit-in, said the male student had approached her and the other students approximately an hour before the incident, and said “What is all this Zionist shit doing in my school.” Lax said that the male student returned an hour later “spewing antisemitic slurs” at the female student involved in the altercation.
An NYPD spokesperson said they did not know the current status of the individual who was detained, but that the student can either be issued a summons — a document that informs a person that they have been charged with a crime — or an arrest — when a person is taken into custody — depending on the circumstances.
“The university is disturbed by this episode; physical violence is rare on our campus, and NYU has zero tolerance for violence,” Beckman said. “In these fraught times, when emotions are running particularly high, we recommend that all members of the NYU community take steps to de-escalate situations in which they find themselves, and that they take special care both to avoid engaging in or rising to provocations.”
Following the physical altercation, Lax claimed that two university administrators asked her to remove the flags and posters at the sit-in to prevent further violence.
“Jewish students have been feeling really underrepresented on campus,” Lax said. “We thought that we would show that the Jewish students of NYU, we’re here, we are not intimidated and this is what we stand for and represent and are not scared but are also not scared to show our opinions without breaking any school rules.”
This incident comes a month after the start of the Israel-Hamas war. On Oct. 7, Hamas violently attacked nearby Israeli towns, killing over 1,400 civilians and taking 200 hostages into the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military responded with airstrikes into Gaza, and has since begun a ground invasion in the region. Over 10,300 Palestinians have been killed in the war so far, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
In an Oct. 25 email to students, NYU president Linda Mills announced that the university increased the presence of Campus Safety officers at its Washington Square and Brooklyn campuses, adding 4,000 weekly patrol hours, due to rising concerns over student safety due to the war. NYU sent another email to students on Nov. 1 with “Guidance and Expectations on Student Conduct,” setting regulations for the use of signs, online activity and behavior during protests.
A few days prior to the incident, around a hundred students representing various on-campus organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Shut it Down NYU and Faculty for Justice in Palestine, gathered at Bobst to call on the university to shut down its study away site in Tel Aviv. In a statement written to WSN at the time, NYU rejected the protesters’ demands. The university has previously said it is “fully prepared” for students to return to the site for the upcoming spring semester.
Senior Naty Zejerman, who arrived at the library after the incident, expressed concern about the safety of Jewish students on campus.
“Everyone has the right to their opinion and everyone has the right to protest their opinion, and it is upsetting when it turns to levels of violence when it doesn’t need to,” Zejerman said. “Jewish students have been concerned about our safety for the past couple of weeks. We’ve been saying it, and this is just another example of why we are concerned about our safety.”